After all the high-fives and handshakes on the field, Marco Gonzales stopped by the edge of the Mariners dugout and looked up into the T-Mobile Park stands. There, halfway up the first section, members of Gonzales’ family stood and waved down at him.
Gonzales waved back and blew a kiss, a small gesture to complete a big day for the left-hander. With extended family in town to meet his infant daughter, Gonzales pitched one of the best games of his career, a complete-game two-hitter to beat the Texas Rangers, 3-1, Thursday afternoon.
“It’s just special to have family here,” Gonzales said, choking up momentarily after the game. “It’s the first time my dad and my grandma have met the baby, and obviously to have (his wife) Monica and (his daughter) Grace here — just special times, man.
“I’ve been waiting on this dad strength to come around.”
Gonzales playfully showed off some of that new strength postgame, wearing oversized green Hulk hands in his Zoom conference call with reporters. He also was wearing the VERY BORING blue T-shirt that he (and teammates) have sported throughout the season, a reference to former team president Kevin Mather’s infamous comments about him in February.
The crowd of 14,031 at T-Mobile Park rose to its feet as Gonzales built an 0-2 count on the Rangers’ Jonah Heim with two outs in the ninth inning. On his 108th pitch, Gonzales got Heim to swing-and-miss at a 90-mph high fastball to end the game.
Gonzales then spun and shouted in celebration.
“It just feels good to feel like I have my feet under me and pitch with my heart and go out there and have fun,” Gonzales said.
He finished with just two hits allowed — one of them a solo home run by Charlie Culberson in the second inning — and tied his career high with nine strikeouts.
After the second inning, Gonzales allowed only one base runner — when he issued his only walk, to Jose Trevino, to start the sixth inning. After that, Gonzales retired the final 11 batters he faced.
“He took over the game — he won the game himself today,” manager Scott Servais said.
Gonzales had a roller coaster of a first half of the season. April was one of the worst months of his career — he was 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA — before he landed on the injured list April 29 with a strained left forearm. He returned from the injured list June 1, then went on paternity leave for four days starting June 27 for his daughter’s birth.
“I’ve tried to stay on (my routine) the whole time, just balancing a lot of things on and off the field,” he said. “… My teammates kept believing in me, coaches kept believing in me. I knew that once I felt confident, got the ball rolling, I’d be good. So I just tried to have faith in the work, in the process, and just trying to keep it rolling, and try to do my part when my turn comes up.”
Gonzales has looked more and more like the front-line starter of old.
In three August starts, he has allowed just two runs in 21.2 innings, and over his past six starts he is 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA.
He was able to induce a lot of soft contact off Rangers’ bats Thursday and got a season-high 17 swings-and-misses. He said he shook off rookie catcher Cal Raleigh just three or four times.
“What amazing job he did today,” Gonzales said.
For Gonzales, there was no doubt he was going back out to pitch the ninth inning. He had a brief conversation with Servais in the tunnel behind the M’s dugout during the bottom of the eighth inning.
“You’ve got to let me finish this — there’s nobody else coming in this game,” Gonzales told his manager. “I don’t even want you to pick up that (bullpen) phone. This is it. Let me go.”
Gonzales quickly retired the first two batters of the inning, and then finished off Heim on the high heat for the first complete-game performance by a Mariners pitcher this season. It’s Gonzales’ third career complete game, and first since Aug. 31 last year.
“His fastball had a lot of life at the top of the zone — he was nailing those spots up there — and he worked in enough change-ups to keep them off-balance,” Servais said. “Anytime anybody throws a complete game in this league, it is quite an accomplishment.”
Jarred Kelenic continued his bounce-back August with a sac fly to drive in the Mariners’ first run, tying the score 1-1 in the fourth inning.
J.P. Crawford belted a no-doubt, 400-foot homer off the facade in right field to give the Mariners a 2-1 lead against Texas’ Mike Foltynewicz in the fifth. It was Crawford’s sixth homer of the season — half of which have, amazingly, come off Foltynewicz.
Jake Fraley added a solo home run in the seventh off Foltynewicz. It was Fraley’s eighth of the season and first since July 2.
The Mariners improved to 61-55 and pulled within five games of the second wild card spot. They host Toronto — the team directly in front of them in the playoff chase — for a three-game series starting Friday.